Mother and daughter double act set to make waves at RMB Ultra-trail Cape Town

Mother and daughter Jasmin and Fiona Nunige running this weekend's RMB Ultra-trail Cape Town. PHoto - Sebastian Scholtysik

A remarkable Swiss mother and daughter will take some stopping at the  RMB Ultra-trail Cape Town this weekend (24-26 November) with their story likely provide inspiration to many.

Just weeks short of her fiftieth birthday, Davos-based Jasmin Nunige is still racing at an elite level, despite having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis over ten years ago.

The adidas TERREX trail running professional competed as a cross-country skier in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehamer, Norway, before switching to trail running later in life, a discipline in which she has excelled, also having represented her country at the highest level.

Jasmin Nunige during the Hong Kong 100km in 2018. Photo – courtesy Jasmin Nunige TERREX

Nunige has returned to Cape Town after she delighted in her experience in last year’s UTCT.

“Cape Town last year was a unique experience – so different,” Nunige confided. “And being part of Tuesday Trails with so many runners was amazing, and the landscape is so different.”

Nunige will be defending her UTCT title in the 35km race on Sunday morning, an event she won last year by finishing ahead of rivals young enough to have been her daughter.

But this year is even more special for the extraordinary Swiss master athlete, as she has brought her own daughter, Fiona, with her to race Saturday’s UTCT 23km. And she is grateful at what life has afforded her, despite its challenges.

A star is born – Fiona Nunige with mother Jasmin. Photo Sebastian Scholtysik

19-year-old Fiona has followed in her mother’s – and grandmother’s – footsteps, first as an accomplished skier and now, like her mother, focused on trail running as her primary sport. And she is revelling in being given the chance to be a part of the TERREX team’s preparation in Cape Town.

“It’s my first time in Cape Town,” said Fiona. “There’s just been so much to do and see and we were able to get a safari trip to Aquila Nature Reserve. Cape Town’s natural environment is just super-beautiful and it’s been great to get away from the cold at home.

“I don’t have to keep up with mum on the trails – obviously she’s much better than me at the moment! But it’s good to be able to run with someone who knows how to be your best. It really helps me a lot. And it’s been good to be able to be a part of the TERREX team. I’m amazed at how friendly they all are, even though they’re much better athletes than me!

Mother and daughter Jasmin and Fiona Nunige enjoying the trails in the Newlands Forest section of Table Mountain National Park. Photo – Sebastian Scholtysik

Like her mother, Fiona started her sporting career on skis. “I’ve been a cross-country skier my whole life and moved to Sweden to become a professional skier,” Fiona explained. “But then I needed to take a break and decided to switch to trail running this summer. I will continue with skiing – I think it is going to help me become a better trail runner. But I’d like to move forward as a trail runner.

“I’ve only done two trail races – one in Switzerland over 12km and a 22km one in France, so don’t really have any expectations for Saturday, except hoping we have good weather, my body feels good and that I’m able to give of my best.  And I’m looking forward to seeing how my time compares with the other really strong athletes.”

Jasmin Nunige wins the 2022 UTCT 35km. Photo – Stephen Granger

Mother Jasmin will be cheering on her daughter on Saturday before her own 35km race on Sunday, when she will be up against her good friends and teammates Cape Town’s Bianca Tarboton and British athlete, Holly Page.

“I really just want to have fun outdoors on the trails,” said Jasmin. “I know from last year the route is difficult. Normally I don’t like such technical terrain but last year was such a nice experience so I’m back again!

“It’s been a long year for me so this is a good way to end my season. I know there are other strong athletes out there, and it’s great to see the younger generation athletes coming through, so it will be a nice fight!

Bianca Tarboton – friend and rival to Jasmin Nunige on Saturday – on her way to winning the 2021 Otter African Trail Run. Photo – Stephen Granger

“Some of my strongest rivals are my TERREX teammates, including Bianca and Holly.  I’m so happy for Holly that she is well and racing again. In the end it’s great just to come together and do what we love.

“We race hard against each other, but friendship and fairness are the most important!  Trail is a wonderful community and it’s not just the result that count.

“It’s been quite a busy year,” Jasmin continued. “I did some races in summer in Switzerland which were really nice but what really makes me happy is to have Fiona on trails and share my experiences with her.

Holly Page, teammate to Jasmin Nunige, took time off her preparation for Sunday’s UTCT 35km to aid the ABC Literacy Programme at Sentinel Primary School in Hout Bay . Photo – Stephen Granger

“She now understands why I like to be out in the mountain and what makes me happy. She will be 20 next spring and I know it is not common to be able to spend so much time together – I’m really grateful for that.”

Jasmin was first diagnosed with MS in 2011 after competing in the Swiss Alpine Race in her hometown of Davos, an event she had won several times before.

“My mother has MS, but she is still in good health even now,” Jasmin reflects. “At 72 she is still active with hiking and biking.  It was helpful for me to see someone who can handle it quite well so I did not need to be too afraid of the future.

“My symptoms come and go – I have enjoyed quite long periods of being really well, then the symptoms return if I experience stress in my life. I then need to learn to go slow take a break.  From the start I decided not to go on any medication as I thought that could be detrimental to my training, and so far it has worked out well.

“What helped me enormously was my husband’s words when I walked to the start line of the 2012 Swiss Alpine Marathon after I had chosen to run the longer 78km race that year.  ‘You have already won the race’ my husband told me. ‘For you to be able to go to the start line to run 78km is a win.’

“That made me cry – it was such an emotional moment for me, as I realized I couldn’t really lose. It took all the pressure off me.  As it happened, I had a super nice strong race and was able to win!

“I’ve learnt a lot about myself this year and have been so grateful for my life and experience. I know it’s not normal to be able to enjoy these activities with my illness – I’ve been really so fortunate.”

Toni McCann – favourite to win tomorrow’s UTCT 55km.

Both Jasmin and Fiona will be out on the trails tomorrow (Friday) to cheer on their TERREX teammates, Robbie Simpson, Yngvild Kaspersen and Toni McCann in the ‘Peninsula Traverse 55km’ which gets underway from Llandudno at 07h00. Winners are expected home around noon at the Gardens Tech Rugby Club in Oranjezicht.